Ambassador Oktay said he understood that the immigration issue could arise at election time but everybody should be careful when talking about it so as not to cause ill feeling. The Muslim population in Hungary was so small, and the Turkish proportion even smaller, that it was not even a discussion. This was not a major issue between Hungary and Turkey, as it was between Turkey and some European countries. The Christian and Muslim worlds could co-exist.

The ambassador said he believes Turkish-Hungarian relations to be excellent and following a positive agenda. There is no major area of difference and the only issues are minor technical ones. High-level visits are ongoing, as seen by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s visit to Turkey in June last year and an expected visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey to Hungary in the near future, though no date is set.

Ambassador Oktay said both countries had now had elections recently and could thus focus on the future. He said trade had been going well, worth USD 2.6 billion in 2017 and USD 1.2 billion in the first five months of this year. The target in the next few years was USD 5 billion a year.

There are inter-governmental meetings and the two countries are cooperating to restore ancient Turkish buildings in Hungary, for instance the 16th-century Gül Baba Tomb in Budapest’s District II. President Erdoğan would inaugurate this historic site during his visit. The countries wanted to increase mutual projects and Turkish investment in Hungary was increasing each year.

Cultural relations were also very good, with 1100 Turkish students in Hungary, some under the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education and some under the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship programme.

On the new government system in Turkey, Ambassador Oktay said the President is now directly elected by the people and the Prime Minister’s Office has been abolished. The June election, which had seen President Erdoğan re-elected with 52.5% of the vote, had been peaceful and stable, with no major incidents. The electoral law had been changed to allow alliances, and six parties were now represented in Parliament. The President had executive powers, but the law had priority over presidential decrees. The 600 MPs would propose laws and have a supervisory role for the government’s actions.

The ambassador said Turkey is strongly attached to the principles of democracy and is not stepping away. Secularism was strongly entrenched and would not be abandoned. Turkey supported the United Nations and was a major contributor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Unfortunately, Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU were deadlocked. Turkey had been in the waiting room for five decades but had not given up. Turkey would be hugely beneficial to the EU, Ambassador Oktay said, for the EU is only an economic bloc, and politically and militarily it could not be a world bloc without Turkey. The EU had not kept promises to Turkey, such as for funding and visa liberalisation, and an anti-Turkish mood still prevailed in some European countries, but the EU needed the link with Asia that Turkey could supply.

On foreign policy, the ambassador said Turkey is enterprising and humanitarian, and wants to pioneer new efforts to address international problems. Last year Turkey contributed USD 8 million to assist other countries. But Turkey had a 1000-kilometre border with Iraq and Syria, and securing peace and stability in the neighbourhood was an absolute priority.

Turkey was the only country fighting against three terror organisations at the same time, namely Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü (FETÖ), which had been proved was behind the July 2016 failed coup; PKK, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, or the Kurdistan Workers' Party; and Daesh, also known as Islamic State.

Ambassador Oktay said FETO, led by Fetullah Gülen, is active in 160 countries with many schools and is therefore a danger for the whole world. Many of its leaders had been extradited to Turkey and the country had purged institutions of its followers. Regarding Daesh and PKK, Turkey had liberated 4000 square kilometres on the Syrian border.

The ambassador asserted that in another trouble spot, Cyprus, it had been the Greek Cypriot side that had killed all plans for a solution on the divided island.


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